Has there ever been a newspaper endorsement that didn’t trot out the apocalypse? How many historic crossroads can there be?

Well, when it comes to the gargantuan and ungainly Cook County government, we’re at the precipice. Re-elect the incumbents, President Todd Stroger and Commissioner Earlean Collins, and then just shut the hell up. You’d be abdicating all responsibility for this $3 billion monstrosity of inside dealing and failed service to our community’s most needy members.

In our candidate interviews for the 1st District seat, we had our most troubling moment yet this election season. Earlean Collins, a county commissioner for 14 years, is sitting in our conference room. She’s both apologetic and defensive about her years of local invisibility. Talking to the press, she says, and meeting voters, were never her priorities. She took a more global view of the job, off to Springfield and Washington for important work. She lined our conference table with hefty three-ringed binders of her work.

More impressive than press portraits of her would have you think, Collins commands facts and perspective. But as she made the case for more time, one more election, there was this damning quote: “County government is different. The people in power aren’t running it,” she said of elected officials doing battle with a legion of patronage hires, entrenched bureaucrats and assorted hangers-on.

No more tinkering around the edges then. No more room for swing votes or compromises. This government is rotten. For that sweeping change that’s in order, thank goodness there are candidates we can enthusiastically endorse.

Toni Preckwinkle for county board president

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle is smart, progressive, independent and cool in that Obama-like way they must be bottling down in Hyde Park. A teacher for a decade, an independent alderman for two decades, Preckwinkle is hitting her stride as a candidate. She’s held back on personal attacks and on overpromising. She just doggedly makes her points: This government costs too much. It favors the few. It doesn’t work in delivering health care efficiently or adequately. The juvenile justice system is a disturbing mess. The county jail is clogged with minor, nonviolent cases where no alternative services are offered.

Toni Preckwinkle has detailed plans. She’s got political acumen. She understands, in her understated way, that county government must be taken apart and put back together. She deserves our votes.

The best of her opponents is Dorothy Brown, clerk of the county court system. She equals Preckwinkle in some policy areas, but can’t surpass her as a package. Terry O’Brien, president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, has nothing unique to offer, save his skin color. And Todd Stroger, whom we met with for 90 minutes, is charming, but without capacity for major change.

Ade Onayemi for 1st District seat

The next county board president is going to need a roster of independent votes among the commissioners. The West Side and immediate suburbs of Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park have an obligation and an opportunity to provide one constant, progressive vote for a total makeover of county government.

Earlean Collins is sincere. And we accept that she’s hard-working. She had credentials as an independent in the 1970s and ’80s. That credibility is spent. It’s time she take her own advice and retire.

Forest Park’s Chris Harris is a decent fellow moved to run out of legitimate upset. But the political battle ahead is going to be fierce and a newcomer should not be in this deep end. We want Harris in local politics. He needs to find a different entry point.

Derrick Smith is a government lifer. Works for Jesse White in the secretary of state’s office, has been a ward superintendent in the city, worked for the forest preserve district and the county medical examiner. Now he’s looking for a toehold in elected office. Though the man is pleasant, he didn’t impress us as one who should be promoted to a new pension level. In a meeting with our editorial board, given a second chance to answer a TIF question, he didn’t know where such money comes from.

That brings us to Adekunle “Ade” Onayemi. We’ve known and admired his work in Oak Park and in Austin for many years and are enthusiastic Onayemi’s taking on this race.

A native of Nigeria and a person whose political outlook was shaped by that country’s dysfunction, Onayemi understands that Cook County has failed in ways both big and small. He grasps the waste and the corruption, the systems failure in providing health care to the poor and uninsured, the debacle at the juvenile detention center and in the county jail. He’s plumbed the specifics and thought broadly about the many problems.

He has a public career as an elected school board member and board president in Oak Park, and as an education activist on the West Side. His office, as an architect, is in Austin. Those public and private efforts integrate into a life spent listening well, building coalitions, solving problems, making difficult choices. Those skills, coupled with integrity and political savvy, make for a combination we must encourage.

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